In 2010 I joined millions of other bright-eyed and naive college graduates ready to trade in their cap and gown to join the version of “workforce” we had heard about for the past four years. We shook off our routine semester schedules, parted ways with our housemates while deciding who would keep the squeaky futon and other collected furniture pieces.
While we lived in our bubble of ignorance those glorious four years, a recession was happening outside our padded walls. As an English major, I thought finding a job would be simple and didn’t take into consideration the shake of my dad’s head when I proudly solidified my major at 18. “You sure about that one?” he asked gently. “Don’t worry, I’ll minor in political science,” I retorted.
Many could argue no one should be asked what they want to do for the rest of their lives at an age where hormones are running rampant and the biggest obstacle each week was what you a were going to do that weekend. This was a time of flip phones and digital cameras that we hoped would make it through a Saturday night. A moment in time of slide-out keyboards, no memes to convey our emotions in a photo and Facebook was the first social media platform and was limited to those with an edu email address.
My political dreams fell flat when I realized I would cry more in a courtroom than be a progressive lawyer and me plus standardized testing resulted in an anxiety attack. This tossed the law school hope into the wasteland of “if you can dream it, you can do it” dumpster fire. That sing-songy tagline really needs a disclaimer if we want to pitch it to kids.
After no luck with paid jobs, I took an unpaid internship with a non-profit theatre company that was and is still is one of the best experiences I ever had as a young adult. I was responsible for a budget, responsible for writing fresh copy, people depended on me and I had somewhere to be at 9 am each day. I didn’t get paid, and I was grateful to have a working job.
At 23, I didn’t know this was a stepping stone. I knew it was something good but only with time could I know how humbled I would become. I’m not saying we shouldn’t pay our interns, we totally should, but for some of us, that was never even an option.
I was lucky enough to join a team that invested in their interns and 10 months later had a polished resume that didn’t rely on just my GPA to get me through the next interview. Post-college is a shock and nothing will prepare you for the disappointment no matter where you land. Unless you somehow have it all figured out and are thriving, which in that case, no one wants to hear about it.
The last ten years have been a rollercoaster of figuring out a career. I somehow got away with incorporating writing and research into my role (see Dad?) but only after a stint in retail management post-internship when job openings were low and no one wanted to hire a 23-year-old English major. I kept pushing my GPA to the top of my resume and cramming in as many adjectives as possible. Only recently did I remove the GPA from my resume after my husband commented, “You still put that on your resume, how old are you?”
We’re in a recession again and I hear a lot of lamenting around me. People upset over pay cuts, employees feeling like they are being taken for granted. I have those moments too. I read that COVID-19 is the snowglobe of 2020. We’re all in this bubble being tossed around, unsure where we will land and have no control of where we are going. For some of us, this might be a wake-up call that we want something else. For others, we are grateful to still be part of that shaky globe.
I feel for new graduates entering the workforce this year. But I also hope they learn to see the lesson, even if it takes them 10+ years. At the risk of sounding like a parent, when I was their age I didn’t expect to get catered meals at my corporate job. I didn’t even expect fresh coffee.
Many non-tech 30 something-year-olds can remember the pit in their stomach as they scrambled to make fresh coffee before hopping into their car only to realize halfway through their commute the fresh coffee, sitting in its thermos, was left behind on the counter. You had to gamble with time if you could turn the car around and still make it to work on time.
We didn’t have companies dangling bonuses and other amenities in front of us. You were grateful if your chair reclined back and was slightly comfortable. As an individual who became aware of the niceties of tech life in their early 30s, I get the appeal. And I have empathy for those younger professionals who feel like their lives are unhinged. This isn’t your first recession and you’ll get through it, maybe not where you thought you would land but you’ll be okay. You’ll have that metaphor called a ‘chip on a shoulder’ perhaps, but you’ll be more seasoned because of it. And when the better times do come back around, and they will, you’ll remember what grateful feels like.
This is my second recession and I’m a lot more grateful than I was at 23 or even 28. I don’t have to like all the changes, but I can still try to see the lesson in the snowglobe. Hang on, kids, there’s beauty in the landing.